The Agent 2
The Drudgereport carried a report of this strangely shrill exchange at a press briefing between Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and reporters. The words in the exchange are important, but not nearly as significant as the atmospherics which evoke Edvard Munch's The Scream.
Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --
Q You're pressuring them.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --
Q It's not pressure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report....
Q Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military --
Q You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm coming to your question, and you're not letting me have a chance to respond. But our military goes out of their way to handle the Koran with care and respect. There are policies and practices that are in place. This report was wrong. Newsweek, itself, stated that it was wrong. And so now I think it's incumbent and -- incumbent upon Newsweek to do their part to help repair the damage. And they can do that through ways that they see best, but one way that would be good would be to point out what the policies and practices are in that part of the world, because it's in that region where this report has been exploited and used to cause lasting damage to the image of the United States of America. It has had serious consequences. And so that's all I'm saying, is that we would encourage them to take steps to help repair the damage. And I think that they recognize the importance of doing that. That's all I'm saying.
Q As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story.
The resentment is palpable. Not the resentment of the spokesman of a Commander in Chief of a military vilified in an article that has already been retracted, but the resentment of reporters whose prerogatives have been questioned. "With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek?", one asks. McClellan actually cannot finish a sentence in answer, because one of the prerogatives of this particular reporter is to ask the questions. "You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends." And the question, although put in different words each time, is monomanaically the same: when did you stop beating your wife? "As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story." And because "somebody wrote a story" the presumption was that the story had to be true, the retraction notwithstanding, as if it never existed, as if the retraction were completely irrelevant from the discussion. In a sense it is, because there was never a retraction. There may have been words which resembled a retraction, but it was never, ever really made because it is absolutely impossible to ever make it.